Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Young Muslim leader arrested in Australia

Kara Lawrence:

YOUNG Muslim leader Iktimal Hage-Ali – a handpicked adviser to the Prime Minister – was arrested in a cocaine bust eight days before receiving the NSW Young Australian of the Year award.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal Ms Hage-Ali, 22, was one of four people arrested by detectives from the Middle Eastern organised crime squad on November 22 as part of Strike Force Kirban.

She was arrested at her Punchbowl home and taken to Bankstown police station, where she was questioned over a cocaine supply ring allegedly operating in Sydney's southwest.

The leading member of John Howard's Muslim Community Reference Group was released without charge.

Police seized what is believed to be prohibited drugs, cash and ammunition from several of the homes.

Ms Hage-Ali's home was not searched, but she had been identified by police as a suspect.

The Daily Telegraph first learned of her arrest last week, but Ms Hage-Ali vehemently denied any involvement or links to alleged drug suppliers.

"If it is true, why hasn't it come out?" she said. "I am a high-profile person, I have no idea why people would be saying this."

The prominent youth leader has worked full-time as a personal assistant in the NSW Attorney-General's department for three months.

Ms Hage-Ali claimed last week that she had only been to Bankstown police station on two occasions – once to report a threatening text message after the Cronulla riots and more recently to talk to police about how to relate better to Muslims.

She did not return calls yesterday, despite repeated requests to respond to the allegations.

A Daily Telegraph investigation has confirmed that Ms Hage-Ali was taken to Bankstown police station on November 22, where she participated in a police interview.

Following the interview, police exercised their discretionary powers to allow her to leave without facing charges.

Ms Hage-Ali was one of four people targeted in the raids.

The other three, males aged 17, 22 and 23, are facing the courts on drug supply charges.

Two were arrested in Telopea St, Punchbowl, while a third was a Greenacre man.

In raids on the men's homes, police allegedly seized cash, pills and powders, believed to be prohibited drugs.

Eight days after the arrests, Ms Hage-Ali received her NSW Young Australian of the Year award from Governor Marie Bashir.

She has been considered a frontrunner for the national award, to be announced on Australia Day.

Ms Hage-Ali is the youngest member of John Howard's Muslim Community Reference Group and a former deputy chair of the State Government's Youth Advisory Council.

She has had access to the highest levels of government and works full-time in the NSW Attorney-General's Department.

The popular young Muslim made headlines last week after members of her own community attacked her for sipping a glass of champagne at the NSW Australian of the Year awards.

Yesterday Middle Eastern organised crime squad commander Detective Superintendent Ken McKay said he was unable to comment because the matter was before the courts.

Ms Hage-Ali lectures police on showing cultural sensitivity to people of Middle Eastern background.

The revelation leaves the PM's already damaged Muslim reference group in even greater doubt.

The group ceased to convene regular meetings in September and Mr Howard wants the whole body overhauled.

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